Kicking Off (Fantasy) Football Season with Mike LaSalle

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

Football returns this week and it’s as big a draw as ever, with millions of Americans settling onto the couch with family and friends to catch all the NFL action.

More than ever this year, fans will have their rooting interests split in two: between their favorite real-world team on the field and the fantasy dream team they’ve assembled on their smartphone.

Mike LaSalle will be right in the thick of it—the 11-year Palisadian is a board member at FanDuel, a titan of the daily fantasy sports industry.

LaSalle landed a seat at the table as a partner of Shamrock Capital Advisors, a private equity firm that invested heavily in FanDuel in 2014.

LaSalle told the Palisadian-Post that as a long-time sports fan, he’s tracked the fantasy scene from its humble beginnings (a group of pals taking turns selecting their favorite players, then manually tracking their statistics) to the nationwide phenomenon it is today (major providers like ESPN and Yahoo boast slick interfaces that do all the stat tracking for you).

Shamrock colleagues shared his interest in fantasy.

“We’re big believers in sports,” said LaSalle, who also served as a board member of the high-flying Harlem Globetrotters after Shamrock invested in 2005.

But it wasn’t until the rise of DFS that the investors saw their play.

As opposed to the traditional, season-long fantasy game—in which competitors draft a team of their favorite players and follow them all season hoping to come out on top—daily fantasy provides near-constant opportunities to play and win.

Players draft a new team of real-world athletes on a weekly or daily basis and compete over a much shorter time span, often for money.

It was a wildly popular new way to play, and Shamrock sensed that it “could be the future of where fantasy was going,” LaSalle told the Post.

They sensed correctly: DFS has since exploded in popularity.

LaSalle estimates that FanDuel has grown to three or four times the size it was when Shamrock invested.

The astronomic success has come with its share of controversy—the DFS industry as a whole has been subject to state-by-state legal battles over whether the daily, for-cash formats constitute sports gambling rather than a game of skill.

Much of the regulatory dust has now settled, and FanDuel legally operates in about 40 states, many of which have passed laws with specific regulations for the unique format.

LaSalle said that he’s happy to see laws that directly contemplate daily fantasy.

“We fully endorse regulation that protects the consumer,” he told the Post.

But in many ways, he thinks the “noise” surrounding the industry has made some people miss out on the way products like FanDuel are evolving.

For example, he explained, this season “it’s all about friends mode”—versions of daily fantasy that harken back to the game’s roots by setting up private servers for competition among friends rather than against faceless opposition online.

“The community piece of it is important to us,” LaSalle told the Post.

The company is also broadening their crossover appeal this year by offering a DFS/traditional mash-up called “championship mode,” where friends compete over the course of a season like in traditional leagues, but with a newly drafted lineup each week.

LaSalle said they will keep tweaking, too, to find something for everyone.

“We want to be that first app that’s open on Sundays,” he told the Post.

And if LaSalle escapes the office to enjoy his own Sundays at home in Pacific Palisades this season, do your best to resist asking him for tips on your fantasy lineup.